At 5:59 a.m. on Oct. 1, 1964, the signals rang on platform 9 in Tokyo station to announce the departure of "Hikari No. 1," the first scheduled train on the Tokaido Shinkansen. In the early light of dawn, the train glided past Yurakucho, providing passengers with elevated views of the famous old Nichigeki theater on the left and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Imperial Hotel on the right.

Soon afterward, in the countryside beyond Shin-Yokohama, the train smoothly accelerated. When it was announced over the public address system that the train had reached its maximum speed of 210 kph, it set off cheers, whistles and applause from its jubilant passengers.

While many people tend to dwell on the shinkansen's speed, it deserves equal praise for other attributes, such as comfort, punctuality and, above all, safety. Over the past five decades, the Tokaido Shinkansen alone has carried more than 5.6 billion passengers while maintaining its unblemished safety record.